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1. Psychology Factsheets Number 56 Debate: Nature-Nurture ã This Factsheet summarises the nature-nurture debate in Definitions psychology…
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  • 1. Psychology Factsheets Number 56 Debate: Nature-Nurture • This Factsheet summarises the nature-nurture debate in Definitions psychology which is part of individual differences and Nature: refers to inherited characteristics and perspectives (AQA specification) and issues, perspectives and abilities determined by our genes. Supporters of debates in psychology (Edexcel). this view are known as ‘hereditarians’ or ‘nativists’. • The nature-nurture debate arises throughout psychology Nurture: refers to the influences of experience; we learn (examples given in this Factsheet are not exhaustive). through our interactions with both the physical and social environment. Supporters of this view are known as ‘empiricists’. History of the nature-nurture debate • The nativist position can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Plato who argued that children do not learn anything new but recollect knowledge that has previously lain dormant. • In the seventeenth century the philosopher John Locke proposed the opposing empirical view, arguing that we are all born with a blank slate (inheriting nothing) and are shaped by our experiences. • In the early days of psychology there was tension between the views, the dominant view being that behaviour was due to biological influences. • Around the 1950s there were two dominant schools of thought, namely American behaviourists and the European ethological school which focused on natural behaviours being innate and universal. • Several implications arise depending which of the two views is taken: (i) if behaviour is inherited, interventions will not be effective, though drug therapies may be of use. (ii) if behaviour is learned, childhood experiences are crucial to development so interventions are needed to train children appropriately. • Although the term ‘debate’ suggests a need to choose one approach over the other, psychologists now acknowledge the influence of both nature and nurture (see text box A). It is no longer an either/or question. Instead the debate concerns the relative importance of each. Examples of the nature-nurture debate in psychology Text box A Psychological approaches and the nature-nurture 1. Perception debate • The nativist view proposes that we are born with The biological approach is nativist, although for some certain perceptual abilities that develop through a disorders, the environment influences behaviour (e.g., genetically programmed process of maturation. phenylketonuria). • In contrast, empiricists believe we are born with only the most The behavioural approach is empirical, proposing that all basic sensory capacity and that it is experience and interaction behaviour is the result of learning. However, the potential with our environment that causes these to develop. for learning is innate, having a genetic basis. • Neither the nativist nor empiricist approach can fully explain The cognitive approach is empirical as it proposes that perceptual development. development is due to experience. However, the structure of • Infant studies suggest that such skills develop as a result of an the mental system is innate. interaction between innate and environmental factors. Research The evolutionary approach is nativist, assuming that now takes the approach of asking how such factors combine to behaviour has evolved because of its survival or adaptive produce a whole perceptual experience and what patterns of value (natural selection), though it does not generally ignore systematic change occur over time in the development of environmental influences. For example, in Bowlby’s theory perceptual skills (e.g., Gibson, 1969). of attachment, the experience of sensitive care-giving is seen to develop a child’s expectations that others will behave in the same way. 2. Gender Development The humanistic approach is largely empirical, assuming that Although our sex is determined by our chromosomes, each individual is unique. However, it proposes that human gender behaviour and identity have been shown to be nature is inclined towards good health, positivity, and strives due to the effects of socialisation (social learning for self-actualisation. theory), changes in the way a child thinks (cognitive- The psychodynamic approach is both empirical and nativist developmental approach) as well as biological factors since behaviour is seen to be driven by innate drives, which (psychoanalytic and evolutionary approaches). interact with experience. 1
  • 2. 56. Debate: Nature-Nurture Psychology Factsheet 3. Language • Nativist theories propose that we are biologically Exam Hint: For the exam you need to know at least two equipped to acquire language (e.g., Chomsky). examples of the nature-nurture debate in psychology. • In contrast, environmental theories view language development as dependent on imitation and reinforcement (e.g., Skinner). Researching nature-nurture influences • Neither the nativist nor empiricist approach can explain language 1. Twin studies development on their own. • Most research has employed twin studies using • Most researchers take an integrative view that incorporates the both monozygotic and dizygotic twins. role of both innate factors and experience (e.g., cognitive theory, • Such studies are natural experiments since the social interactionist theory), though such theories still have independent variable, genetic relatedness, is not difficulty in explaining language development fully. manipulated/controlled by the experimenter and individuals are not randomly allocated to conditions. 4. Cognitive development • Research may compare twins who are reared together or apart. • Piaget’s theory proposes that cognitive For example, Shields (1962) compared IQ scores of monozygotic development is biologically-driven, with innate twins. They found that the concordance rate in IQ scores was schemas developing due to new experiences. 0.76 when reared together and 0.77 when reared apart. This • The individual is the main focus of the theory, suggests little environmental influence on intelligence since both with the environment enabling biological cognitive groups had similar IQs regardless of their environment. structures to develop. • Such research suggests that 50% of the variation in adult • Piaget’s theory therefore acknowledges the role of both nature characteristics is due to genetic factors. Therefore 50% of the and nurture, emphasising the potential available to all in an variation is also due to environmental factors. These factors appropriate nurturing environment. cannot be the shared environment (e.g., the home) otherwise natural and adopted siblings would be more similar than they 5. Aggression are (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Instead the variation is due to • Biological explanations propose that the male non-shared environmental factors (e.g., peer influence). hormone testosterone causes aggressive behaviour. 2. Animal research • In contrast, social learning theories propose that Animal experiments manipulate the environment to assess the effect aggressive behaviour is learned through direct and vicarious on development and behaviour. For example, Blakemore & Cooper experience. (1970) study of perception in kittens demonstrated how the nervous • Other empiricist theories propose aggression is a product of the system can adapt to the environment (‘neural plasticity’). physical environment (e.g., temperature, crowding), Methodological difficulties in the nature-nurture debate deindividuation or relative deprivation. It is impossible to provide true experimental evidence of nature- • None of these theories are able to fully explain aggressive nurture influences. behaviour on their own. 1. Twin studies o Although monozygotic twins start out as identical cells, as the 6. Causes of mental illness cells divide and multiply there will be minor differences. • Whilst research has identified a genetic basis for o Small variations in inherited characteristics and behaviour create many disorders (e.g., schizophrenia, depression), different micro-environments, so that each child creates their environmental influences have also been shown to own environment in terms of how they react, select interactions have a part to play. and what they attend to (Plomin, 1994). • The diathesis-stress model proposes that mental o Twins, although reared apart, may have spent a lot of time illness is a result of the interaction of nature and together, gone to school together, and are often raised by nurture; underlying predispositions (i.e., genetic vulnerability) relatives (Kamin, 1977). Adopted twins are usually placed in only develop into the mental disorder if activated by stressors homes similar to their natural home. in the environment (e.g., major life events, traumatic experiences). The more susceptible an individual is, the less stresses are 2. Animal research necessary for the disorder to develop. Although this has been more successful in defining and manipulating environmental variables, transferring these findings to humans is 7. Intelligence problematic, particularly when considering cultural influences • Until the middle of the 20th century, intelligence was (Horowitz, 1993). generally regarded as biologically determined. 3. Manipulation of variables • In the 1950s the dominant view switched to the o There is no agreement regarding how to define or measure our empiricist view. environment. • Recent research by Turkheimer et al. (2003) highlights o Research that manipulates the environment usually involves the complexity in deciding the influence of genes/environment making judgements about what makes a good or bad environment. on intelligence. They found that the contribution of genetic o In order to attribute differences between genetically-different factors to intelligence was greater for wealthy children groups to nature, both groups must share the same environment. (heritability 0.72) than poor children (heritability 0.10). In the past, psychologists have falsely proposed that certain groups of people (‘races’) are genetically more intelligent than others (e.g., Jensen, 1969), ignoring environmental differences (e.g., education, poverty). 2
  • 3. 56. Debate: Nature-Nurture Psychology Factsheet Alternative views of the nature-nurture relationship Consequences of the nature-nurture debate • The contribution of nature and nurture has important practical a) Gene-environment interactions and political implications. • Genes may influence behaviour and the environment. • For example, if intelligence is seen to be largely influenced by • Research suggests three types of gene-environment environmental factors, this supports interventionist programmes relationships (Azar, 1997); such as Operation Headstart, set up in America in the 1960s to help disadvantaged children. Alternatively, if intelligence is seen (i) passive relationship - parents’ genes are transmitted to be innate, this supports schemes that separate individuals passively to the child via the environment that the parents on the basis of their innate potential. An example of this is the create. For example, if artistic ability is assumed to be genetic, 11-plus examination and selective placement in secondary then artistically-gifted children will have parents with an schools in the UK. artistic inclination who provide both the genes and the environment that promote artistic ability. Example exam question: Discuss the nature-nurture (ii) evocative relationship – genetically distinct individuals may debate in psychology. evoke different reactions in those around them. For example, This question requires you to both describe and evaluate the an artistically-gifted child may be chosen for special training nature-nurture debate. You could consider particular examples opportunities, or may produce admiration from peers. of nature and nurture in psychology. In this case, any of the (iii) active relationship – individuals actively select experiences examples given in this factsheet are relevant, though you will that best fit their genetically-influenced preferences. For need to be selective (only choosing a few in order to give yourself example, artistically-gifted children may seek out artistic enough time to evaluate each example selected). Alternatively, experiences, opportunities and friends with artistic ability. you could focus on more general issues such as the alternative views regarding the relationship between nature and nurture, b) Reaction range research methodologies and difficulties. For either approach, the • Gottesman (1963) proposed a reaction range of gene- evaluation will need to consider the implications and environment interactions. consequences of each approach. • This proposes that whilst experience does affect development of a skill or ability, its development will be limited Exam Hint: If the exam question asks you to discuss the history of the nature-nurture debate, you can describe any of the by our biological inheritance. examples of nature and nurture topics in psychology, but you • Our genes establish a reaction range within which will need to ensure your answer gives a sense of the historical development occurs; the observable characteristics we development in the description. Remember, you can also display (our phenotype) result from the interaction between consider the consequences of the historical views taken on our genotype (potential) and our environment. people’s lives (e.g., effects of viewing intelligence as either • For example, height is affected by the quality of food we eat genetic or environmental). as a child. Even with the best possible diet, we cannot grow beyond the height laid down by our genes. Glossary c) Nature via nurture Concordance rate: the extent to which two measures are in • Genes are seen to both interact with the environment and be agreement. activated by experience (Ridley, 2003). Deindividuation: the process that occurs when an individual • Promoters in our DNA switch genes on and off. As some loses their sense of individual identity so that social, moral and promoters are affected by our environment, which genes society’s constraints on behaviour are loosened. will be expressed depends on the individual’s environment. Dizygotic: non-identical twins come from two eggs and are genetically as similar as any siblings (being 50 per cent genetically similar). Heritability: a measure of the relationship between the variance of a trait in the whole population and the extent that variance is due to genetic factors. Monozygotic: identical twins who come from a single egg and have the same genes. Acknowledgements: This Psychology Factsheet was researched and written by Louise Hope The Curriculum Press, Bank House, 105 King Street, Wellington, Shropshire, TF1 1NU. Psychology Factsheets may be copied free of charge by teaching staff or students, provided that their school is a registered subscriber. No part of these Factsheets may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any other form or by any other means, without the prior permission of the publisher. ISSN 1351-5136 3
  • 4. 56. Debate: Nature-Nurture Psychology Factsheet Worksheet: Debate: Nature-Nurture Name 1. Define the terms ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2. Briefly outline the history of the nature-nurture debate -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3. Give two examples of the nature-nurture debate in psychology. 1. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4. Explain the issues and assumptions of the two examples given in question 3. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 5. What are the main research methods for studying nature-nurture? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 6. What are the difficulties with the methods given in question 5? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 7. Briefly outline two different views regarding the relationship between nature and nurture. 1. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4
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